Friday, October 21, 2011

Celebrate Food Day

When I stumbled across information about Food Day online, my initial reaction was, “Good, but isn’t this a bit inane? We have so much wonderful food in this country, why do we have to encourage people to learn about and eat the good stuff?”

We’re lazy, that’s why. We want things to be quick, easy. We don’t want to bother thinking about something that draws us out of our comfort zone. We want to cruise through life. I can be guilty right along with everyone else.

For example, lunch on Wednesday. I didn’t have good leftovers in the refrigerator to take with me so I looked in the cabinet and found a “make it quick” soup bowl I had gotten with a free coupon from the local food coop, which I typically trust to provide good food. When my stomach began to tell me to prepare it, I ripped off the packaging and stared at a vacuum-packed rectangle of noodles, a hard pack of seasonings and a “flavor” pack. I had my doubts, but I didn’t panic.

I followed the instructions for softening the noodles then mixing in water and seasonings, all in the microwave. It was certainly easy enough although I didn’t use their plastic bowl because of health concerns related to heat and plastic. I used a mug. When it finished, I tasted. Bland, quite bland. I dumped in the flavor pack contents, which looked like soy sauce. There still wasn’t much to taste.

If it hadn’t been cold, windy and rainy, I would have gone for a walk to find something healthier. It’s not an easy thing to do in the neighborhood where I work with a nonprofit in one of the lowest-income neighborhoods of Lexington. Since the weather was bad, I ate the soup hoping it would at least fill me up. It did, temporarily, but it didn’t leave a good after taste.

I spent the rest of the afternoon longing for a good meal from the garden.

What did I learn? Don’t trust convenience foods, even from the local food coop. Plan ahead at home so you can be sure to have a decent lunch to take. Remember that food not only provides nutrition, but when does well it also feeds the soul.

Maybe we all have to hit a wall before we’re willing to change our habits. And even though I changed my habits years ago, a reminder now and then helps me stay on track. So today I'm making Butternut Squash Chili. That will provide good leftovers for a few meals. I'm also hoping the tomato plants I put into my greenhouse this week will keep giving me fresh, red fruits for a couple of months. I want to eat from the goodness of the garden for as long as I can.

Maybe the need for a national Food Day isn’t so inane after all.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Eating the weeds, or are they herbs?

I fear I’ve over-weeded my garden.

Yes, it’s an odd thing to say at this time of year but after visiting the Lexington Farmer’s Market, I began searching gardens and yards for purslane, which I had before considered a weed. I know my friends in Nature's Thyme Herb Club would scold me. My excuse is that I'm still learning.

I saw purslane in my dad’s tomato bed, next to the plants he had just cut down for the season. I pulled a leaf and tasted. It was meatier than most greens and somehow pleasant although I didn’t eat enough to further define it. I assumed I would find it once I returned home because I’ve certainly pulled plenty of it from the gardens when I didn't want it taking over.

Learning about edibles like this is one of the things I love about visiting the Farmer’s Market. When the farmers and food producers don’t have a crowd of customers, they’re happy to chat with visitors about their produce. When I saw purslane for sale, I had to ask. The farmer told me it has more beta-carotene than a carrot and is quite coveted by gourmet chefs in New York’s finer restaurants.

Of course, being a journalist I always want to verify the information I hear, especially when it comes from someone who seems reliable but is also trying to sell something (that no knock on the farmer; I love them all). Several websites I found claim it’s high in anti-inflammatory Omega-3 fatty acid, Vitamin C and Beta-Carotene. According to USDA statistics one cup of purslane provides 15 percent of the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin C and 11 percent for Vitamin A. The chart I looked at didn’t measure Beta-Carotene and Omega-3 so I’m still searching for a good source on those.

Other information I found suggested summer is the time to harvest it, so I won’t worry about that “over-weeding” until spring arrives. In the meantime, if you still have natural edibles growing in your garden, check our this article in The Herb Companion magazine for more information.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Exclaiming over pond-raised prawns

“This is the best shrimp fettuccini alfredo I’ve ever had!” my husband, Jim, said as he ate his meal last night. He then went on to list the Italian restaurants where he had learned to love the dish, saying he couldn’t order it at any of those places again after being spoiled by the taste of what we made at home.

Although I would like to take credit for preparing an out-of-this-world alfredo sauce, the difference was in the shrimp.

Two weeks ago when a local farm, Kemper Lane Greenhouse, harvested their prawns (the name for freshwater shrimp), Jim was there to buy some. He even got down in the mud to get some of them. Then he removed their heads and pulled out the mud vein, put them on a tray in the freezer to flash freeze, then bagged them up. He had been asking for the fettuccini alfredo since then.

I obliged with a 15-minute recipe I’ve been using for years, preparing a salad with greens from Rolling Meadow Farm and a margherita pizza with tomatoes from our back yard. Since I’m not a fish eater beyond tuna and salmon, I roasted vegetables for my pasta while Jim boiled his shrimp and removed the shells. When we put it all together, he exclaimed about the flavor, realizing he had never eaten shrimp so fresh, sweet and all-together delicious.

I have heard stories regarding health concerns about farm-raised fish. I’ve also listened to explanations about why it isn’t an environmentally sound way to raise fish. My research on the topic yielded results that pointed to both the pro and con sides. I must say that knowing we supported a local farmer and hearing Jim exclaim over the meal make it hard for me to say anything against it, especially since Jim urged me to write about how good the shrimp was. So here it is, an opinion from one seafood lover. If prawn harvests in your area aren’t finished, you might want to check it out for yourself.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Delicata Delicacy

When the child eats barely a bit of most foods on the table but smiles after she tastes my squash, that’s enough for me to declare it a winner.

The other night we went to our friend Robbie’s house for good conversations and Sunday evening dinner. Robbie is a great cook so we never worry about walking away hungry. Of course, what’s fabulous to the adult palette isn’t necessarily so to the child’s taste. A child’s food preferences are often greatly influenced by what he or she eats on a daily basis. A table filled with unfamiliar foods can be more frightening that inviting.

When I offered to prepare a delicata squash side dish, I wasn’t thinking about pleasing a child, I just made it because Jim likes it so I thought everyone else would, too. The slightly sweet vegetable topped with bright raspberries is as pleasing to the eye as it is to the tongue. Here’s the easy recipe.

Delicata Squash with Raspberries

Cut squash in two lengthwise. Place cut side down in baking dish. Fill with about water about 1/3 the height of the squash. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake in 400 degree oven 30 minutes or until soft. Stand back when removing the foil so the hot steam doesn’t burn your skin.

When the squash is soft, turn it over and empty the water. Cut a few bits of butter and drop into the squash cavity. Sprinkle with salt then with brown sugar. Top with walnut or almond pieces and a few raspberries. Don’t overdo it with any of the toppings; the squash flavor is great itself and these toppings just help bring out the flavor. Bake another 10 -15 minutes until the filling is melted. If one squash boat is too much for one serving, cut it in half. Serve and enjoy!

Our friends, and their granddaughter, sure liked it. They’ve already decided to look for delicata squash seeds to plant in their garden next year.